Procurement Needs to Lead Process Improvement Transformation

By Dr. Tom DePaoli

Often companies make the grievous mistake of not letting procurement select or source the consultant or consulting group to lead process improvement. Lean Six Sigma and Lean are too important to leave in the hands of other departments not familiar with the comprehensive evaluation of a bid or a proposal. In fact, procurement or supply management not only should lead the selection, but lead the entire process improvement transformation. Nothing can have more financial gain for a company than improvements in the supply chain! Here are some hard learned selection lessons.

Experience trumps everything in selecting a Lean Six Sigma or Lean consultant. It’s critical that the consultant you hire has multiple experiences with multiple projects. Verification by checking with former clients is essential. Beware of consultants who want to charge exorbitant fees for all the process improvement training belt classes. You can quickly master this training internally for employees to become at least an entry level Green Belt by using the train-the-trainer concept. Belt certifications differ from company to company. Insist on training effectiveness data from the consultant and examples of successful projects and tools used in their methodology. There are hundreds of improvement tools that could possibly be used in the process improvement. There are however only about 30-40 that are used most frequently and are the most effective.

Strongly consider a fixed hourly rate especially for training, but remember that you get what you pay for. Make sure you can retain all the training materials developed during the process. Many of the available training materials are generic, and you will want to retain any customized ones for your company. Make sure the consultant understands that you will demand process improvement self-sufficiency in two years or sooner.

The consultant’s people skills must be superb. Initially many members of a process improvement team are hostile to the process and transformation until they understand it. Strive to make the contract performance-based on the savings of the projects rather than amount of training delivered or other parameters that they suggest. Consider jointly developing online training courses that can be used with much greater flexibility. Process improvement meeting organization and facilitation skills are indispensable. Insist on sitting in on a live meeting that the consultant conducts like a kaizen. Observing a consultant in action is one of the best ways to judge their skills. Make sure the consultant can fit into your organization’s culture and adapt to your organization’s standards and norms. Nothing destroys process improvement initiatives faster than cultural mismatches.

Finally prepare your organization for the process improvement transformation. The most successful proven way to make process improvement initiatives work is to make employees accountable for it. In other words tie their cooperation, progress and training in process improvement directly to their pay or raises. You must financially incentivize it for them. Other so-called persuasive or cooperative approaches have a much higher failure rate.


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